RN74, a reiteration, but not a clone, of the San Francisco original, opened this summer in the landmark Joshua Green Building. The kitchen's modern riffs on such French classics as coq au vin, cassoulet and beef bourguignon are stunning deconstructions, impeccably cooked, seasoned and sauced.
It’s been a long time since a big-deal nonchain restaurant was carved from scratch downtown. Hence the frisson of excitement in June when chef/restaurateur Michael Mina and wine director Rajat Parr finally popped the cork on RN74 in the landmark Joshua Green Building at the corner of Fourth and Pike.
On a recent Saturday night, a dressy crowd swirled pinots and cabs at this raucous rendezvous, a reiteration, but not a clone, of the San Francisco original, named for the road that runs through France’s Burgundy wine region. Svelte beauties leaned into tufted leather upholstery rubbing tanned shoulders with paunchy men in tailored haberdashery. The staff looks dressed for a Details photo shoot: hostesses in little black dresses, bartenders in snug black shirts, and managers in slim-cut jackets and sneakers.
Classic European train stations inspired the luxuriously informal interior, dimly lit in amber and red. The design conceit is pervasive: from the earsplitting Gare de Lyon acoustics right down to red business cards punched like train tickets. It includes a “Last Bottle” board with plaques that flip to reveal last-chance wines available at value prices: close-outs but still mostly priced in the three figures.
By the glass, you can spend as much as $27 for Chambolle-Musigny or as little as $8 for Columbia Valley Riesling. Bottles are uncorked at a central wine table, pre-tasted by the sommelier, then presented with its cork for your approval. The wine list’s depth of vertical vintages from some of the Northwest’s premier wineries is impressive. No wonder I spied several local winemakers and wine-industry executives on my visits.
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Expect not only to drink well, but to eat well. Tomato soup fondue with mini grilled-cheese dippers is a fun shareable nibble. But it can’t compete with maitake mushroom tempura, delicate as blossoms, dusted with citrusy yuzu salt, and dipped into silky green onion mousseline sauce.
Charcuterie includes exemplary pork pate and chicken liver mousse, both house-made, along with stellar cured meats from Olli Salumeria in Virginia. Hudson Valley foie gras sliders, packed with peppery sylvetta greens and served with caramelized onion jus, become the ultimate French dip.
But mostly, executive chef Michelle Retallack works with Northwest-grown ingredients: Washington chicken, Oregon beef and lamb, Idaho rainbow trout. Her modern riffs on such classics as coq au vin, cassoulet and beef bourguignon are stunning deconstructions, impeccably cooked, seasoned and sauced.
For coq au vin the braised dark meat is served with vegetables and crisp pork lardons alongside buttered egg noodles that capture the wine-rich sauce. But the breast, poached in duck fat, is also deeply delicious under seared and seasoned skin.
Lamb cassoulet is another twofer: braised shank meat and sausage flavor-load the bread-crumb-topped white bean stew. Rosy slices of grilled tenderloin are served on the side with charred radicchio, roasted garlic and fresh arugula.
Braised short rib so tender a sharp word could cut it anchors beef bourguignon. The server floods the bowl with potent braising liquid creating eddies around the meat, maitake mushrooms, tiny turned carrots and potatoes, and celery root purée.
The glorious corn bisque at lunch is likewise dispensed, setting afloat bacon-wrapped balls of fried mashed potato. Menu prices are lower at lunch. A hefty chunk of ahi tuna belly confit adorns an exquisitely composed Nicoise salad ($12). Cornichon-studded sauce gribiche (tartar sauce, French-style) accompanies curry-warmed halibut fish and chips ($14). Bordelaise-sauced steak frites ($20) comes with a bonus bowl of brown butter Bearnaise.
Desserts were uneven. Apple tatin was humdrum and weirdly cloaked in foam. I liked the beignets but not the too-boozy butterscotch sauce. Chocolate-wrapped salted-caramel ice-cream sandwich tasted appropriately decadent. Best was a sort-of float made with mascarpone ice cream and Concord grape juice. Embellished with chocolate straws and tiny macarons, it was a special offered only during the grapes’ short season.
Our soiled brown paper place mats were replaced before dessert. It’s one of many service niceties, large and small, that make the high price of dining here seem a value. Now, if only they could muffle the din and shield certain seats from a view inside the gents’ restroom every time the door opens.
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